EAC health, safety rules harmonised

Consumers in East Africa will soon have better access to a greater choice of safe foods following an effort by partner states to eliminate barriers to food and animal exports in the region.

The five EAC countries are next year expected to start implementing harmonised rules and procedures on standardisation under the EAC Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Protocol.

The protocol will help countries reduce costs of implementing the SPS measures by operating regional testing and laboratory facilities. This will reduce the number of inspections for export products and the amount of time cargo spends in bond going through various checks.  

SPS measures refer to regulations concerning the safe handling and production of food, plant and animal products. They apply only to measures directly affecting the health of humans, animals and plants.

EAC partner states are currently implementing their Food Security Action Plan (2011-2015) as they prepare to implement the SPS Protocol. At the recent EAC ministers meeting in Arusha, partner states were directed to expedite the ratification process of the protocol before the end of December to enable its implementation.

Rwanda and Uganda have already ratified the SPS measure Tanzania has presented the Protocol to a parliamentary commission while Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi are still ratifying it.

The EAC SPS Protocol has been developed in line with Article 108 of the EAC Treaty, which requires partner states to harmonise sanitary and phytosanitary measures for pest and disease control.

The measures must be based on scientific evidence as per the World Trade Organisation’s guiding principles.

According to Peter Kiguta, EAC Director-General of Customs and Trade, harmonised SPS measures ensure exporters benefit from the elimination of unjustified barriers for their products.

Efforts to produce safe products for export to other markets should not be thwarted by regulations imposed for purely protectionist purposes under the guise of health or other unjustified policy measures.

“An SPS restriction has been used as an effective barrier to trade and can be misused by some countries to shield domestic producers from competition,” said Mr Kiguta.

He said that under the protocol, if a country such as Tanzania, for example, requires maize imports to only come from farms that practise a certain type of crop rotation, then this measure is not permitted under the SPS Protocol since there is no scientific evidence that crop rotation affects the safety of maize consumers or if Kenya requires that imported eggs from another EAC country be stored below a certain temperature, this regulation is not permitted under the protocol because it lacks scientific evidence that storage practices affect the safety of eggs. 

Under the protocol, before exporting a plant or plant product, an exporter must first obtain a plant import permit from the National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) of the country of import and provide the same permit to the NPPO of the exporting country.  

“Inspection of the plants or products shall be carried out as prescribed in the import permit. The exporter must then obtain a phytosanitary certificate not more than 14 days prior to shipment,” states the SPS Protocol.